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July 31, 2020

Measures that Matter – Free Legal Services for Alleged Victims of Domestic Violence

This measure is a mighty step in the right direction. A couple of weeks ago  the Ministry of Justice, Equality and Governance announced the introduction of free legal services for alleged survivors of domestic violence. I use the word ‘alleged’ not to demean such persons or their situation but to be legally correct. I had harped on the need for this intervention on a live radio show not long before, precisely on the day Malta woke up to the news that Chantelle Chetcuti, a thirty four year old mother of two had tragically passed away, allegedly at the hands of the father of her children. May her family and friends find the strength to carry on.



In a nutshell the programme was focused on what we as individuals, we as society and what Government must do to address this evident and evergrowing problem of gender and sexual based violence in Malta. We spoke of addressing patriarchal societal norms, pushing forward equality  in  all  sectors  of  life,  enhanced  training  within  the  Executive  Police.  Financial independence amongst these many factors, however, is key. It is  crucial that a person who seeks help finds  it, and more importantly does  not shy away from reporting for the fear of monetary limitations. Out of all fears a survivor of violence may be faced with, the fear of not being able to pay an advocate should definitely not be one of them.



Thankfully,  today  this  fear  has  been  done  away  with  and  any  person  who  requires  legal assistance in cases of domestic violence will have that help, free of charge, by one of three advocates working on a roster. This differs from Legal Aid, in that this is a pool of three lawyers specialised in handling these delicate cases and this legal assistance is not limited to criminal matters  but  is  available  across  the  board.  To  avail  yourself  of  this  help  call  on  79747974,

25674330 or send an email to [email protected]



Ultimately this has introduced a sort of two-tier representation for victims of crime, known as the  ‘parte  civile’  in criminal  proceedings.  I  say  this  because  the  prosecution  in  criminal proceedings rests in the hands of the Executive Police or the Attorney General, depending on the Court before which proceedings are ongoing. These prosecutorial figures may be said to represent a victim’s rights, notwithstanding the possibility of them adducing evidence in favour or against the accused. Nonetheless, the State is ensuring that legal representation of victims before the Court of Magistrates, is free of charge.



The rights of the parte civile before the Courts of Magistrates are far-reaching, in that questions may be posed to witnesses, evidence may be produced and submissions  may be made. This finds no equivalent before the Criminal Court. This brings me to a topic that merits a profound discussion: the rights of the parte civile before the Criminal Court. This Court basically deals with the more serious offences. It is general knowledge that trials by jury are largely reserved for the trying of the crimes of wilful homicide, attempted wilful homicide and serious drug offences. Albeit the seriousness of these proceedings before this Court, the parte civile has no right  to  bring  evidence,  no  right  to  pose questions  to  witnesses  and  no  right  to  make submissions. If anything, shouldn’t it be the inverse situation? Shouldn’t a victim have more


rights in more serious offences? Obviously the advocates for the victim may liaise with the

Attorney General, but is this enough?



This year we saw the profound  effects that a victim statement can have on the punishment awarded  to  a  person convicted.  In  this  particular  case,  although  there  had  been  agreement between the accused and the Attorney General for the amount of punishment to be awarded in return for a guilty plea, the Criminal Court rejected this agreement altogether and sentenced the aggressor of Mariel Agius to eighteen years imprisonment.



A  measure  that  comes  to  mind,  especially  during  these  trying  times  marked  by  social distancing, is to ramp up the use of video-conferencing facilities in Court. Can’t we find a way to  give  the  parte  civile  and  his  or  her advocate  the  possibility  of  following  proceedings virtually? Is there really the need for the parte civile and the accused to be physically in the same Court room only metres apart? Do they really need to wait in the same hallway, if not on the same bench for their case to be called? Whilst video-conferencing is being used by Courts when a vulnerable person gives testimony, the buck stops there. I encourage the Government to explore this possibility and I am optimistic that this Government and others succeeding it will introduce more measures that matter.


Ana Thomas

LEAD Participant

Aqsam ma' ħaddieħor

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